Meet the women of the CSN: Georgine Obwana

Women's Nutrition, East and Southern Africa

Program Officer, Civil Society Alliance for Nutrition Uganda (CISANU)

My work in nutrition

First of all I am the Program Officer – Networking and Institutional Development for Civil Society Alliance for Nutrition Uganda (CISANU).  CISANU is the Civil Society Alliance (CSA) in Uganda formed through a coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and academia.

Under the leadership of CISANU my roles include, but are not limited to, advocacy in voicing my expectations, priorities, and creating an enabling environment for the reduction of malnutrition in Uganda through media engagements (training/sensitization), research, capacity building and community mobilization; undertaking effective resource mobilization; and networking initiatives, which is a privilege.

My roles are engaging, exciting and challenging to perform and it is what keeps me determined and focused to push for the nutrition agenda.

Working with the SUN CSN platform is one of the most amazing opportunities I have ever had. My interests and goals are supported in various ways, I interface with great minds with whom learning and sharing knowledge and information in regards to addressing nutrition issues is the goal.

While growing up, if you ever asked me what I wanted to do in the future, working in a nutrition domain would never be close to my list of answers. I never envisioned myself championing for nutrition issues at all. My career fantasy was on a whole different lane. But when I got into practicing journalism which I will forever relish, (I am a journalist by profession and also a development enthusiast with a degree in Development Studies) I got captivated into telling health related stories.

I loved and enjoyed informing the public about health issues concerning; food, hygiene, sanitation, physical fitness (on that note and without apology, I am a sports junkie and will forever be). I would also dedicate time to read and get informed about scientific research that has been conducted on various occurrences, and then share information with my opinion. I would feel a sense of fulfillment and achievement thereafter. In one of the Radio stations I have worked for I had a segment called the ‘Health Report”. Despite doing all this, I still hadn’t the slightest thought of working in the nutrition sphere.

The experience of witnessing first hand and reporting about community health issues got me richly informed. I got to understand the disparities and inequalities people are faced with in regards to health. I kept asking myself what is the problem? Is governance the issue? Or lack of information about health related matter? But even after questioning I kept on informing the mass about what is happening.

So it was until I met a veteran journalist, a health communicator and promoter, a development activist full of ardor and oomph about nutrition and health related issues (Richard Baguma) who enthused me and begun to mould (the process is still ongoing) the health and nutrition advocate I am today, using the readily available resources of my six year journalism experience, passion for health issues, communication skills, prospective leader, resilience, determination and focus, among others. These resources coupled with his mentorship and supervision is the reason I am in the nutrition sphere.

I found a forte where I can put my skills to very good use and maximize my potential, in turn creating opportunities for further progress.

The role of women

Research shows that women with more control over household resources tend to be healthier and well nourished, as do their families, because they are able to spend more on the nutrition, health and well-being of their households. In addition to being in charge of food preparation women substantially contribute to their families’ production of needed yields.

Nutrition is affected by a multifaceted set of factors, thus governments and programs are more likely to be successful in addressing malnutrition if they approach it from different viewpoints. It is also critical to understand that the effect of programs and policies dealing with health, agriculture, food security, and water and sanitation should also be taken into account.

And so, sufficient nutrition is important for women not only because it helps them be productive members of society but also because of the direct effect maternal nutrition has on the health and development of the next generation.

For me, existing as a woman is the greatest, most exciting and beautiful thing that has ever happened. It comes with a host of blessings like; I am notoriously organized, neat and super sizzling at multi-tasking. Sometimes I even surprise myself when I’m talking on the phone, pressing my clothes and reading my astrologer’s chart at the same time.

Often times I try not to think of myself as ‘a woman’ but rather as ‘a person’. I totally agree that gender is an important facet to be looked into, but it should not define me all time. In all we do the modicum of gender is entrenched, sometimes it is annoying but it has also permitted me to contribute novel experience.

I have learnt to find my confidence, to ignore certain prejudices, and have made the decision to have a strong belief in my own abilities. I have to thank my solid upbringing for this, especially my mother (Evaline Cheptengan Ndiwa) whom I adore very much. She has always been at the forefront, shedding a spotlight and steering how I view the opportunities or limitations of being a woman. She is such an inspirational “life teacher” who saw my potential and keeps pushing me to pursue and achieve my career objectives.

In fact every time am challenged I just think of her wise words “duniani hakuna lolote inakuja kwa urahisi sana sana kama wewe ni mwanamke, ndio itabidi ujitegemee na utie bidii kwa kazi”. Which loosely translates to; “in this world nothing comes easy especially if you are a woman, therefore you need to help yourself and work hard at your career”.  

I vividly remember how my late father, my role model, mentor and best friend (RIP Idewait J Obwana) whom I enjoyed a very close relationship with, used to tell me that the working environment and interactions with colleagues comes with a lot of contests. So “speak up and assert your case whenever necessary do not be afraid of being judged differently especially by men. They will respect you for who you are and do not fear being seen as frightening, aggressive, strident or disruptive when holding a reasoned but determined position”. But “all this do it with humility”. When they say words have power, my late father’s words have had a positive effect in particularly my career as a woman. I always have reflections upon the words and I have become more resilient to sail through the tides. I refer to myself as “a silent yet a loud fighter” just like how my father was.

One thing for sure is that women still undergo through difficulties to equal men’s pay for the same job and to get promotions that will raise them in leadership roles. They are also faced with challenges of balancing work and life, parenting, managing numerous responsibilities and multitasking. Nevertheless, women have advanced in regards to leadership positions and they continue to do so.

From my perspective, there are infinite possibilities to elevate more women in leadership such as the present day attention given to the idea of equality and gender fairness, creating fertile ground for women to take advantage of their strengths in leadership. Women also need to recognize their exceptional capabilities, comprehend what they bring to their work environment to facilitate success, thereafter, ensure that their voices are heard. We need to practice speaking up, speaking out and contributing at any given opportunity.

Sadly, role models and mentors for women leaders are few, consequently it is beneficial to identify a community especially within our working environment of mentors, role-models, and networking groups who can steer and offer a support system to more women and lift them into leadership.